No. 15




The Political Debate over the National Defence, and Public Opinion in Estonia

14 June 2007


RiTo No. 15, 2007

In the run-up to NATO accession there was consensus among political parties when it came to Estonian foreign and security policy. Now that Estonia is a member of the organization, however, political discussion has arisen concerning the various alternatives and opportunities for guaranteeing national security.

Opposition from the previous Defence Minister and Commander of the Defence Forces raised the issue of how control over the national defence should be regulated by law. At the opening session of the 11th Riigikogu, the President of the Republic proposed that the Constitution be amended by removing the Commander of the Defence Forces from the list of constitutional institutions.

The various differences are not only due to the different views of parties and a handful of politicians regarding how the national defence should be organized. The various defence concepts reflect a collision between different paradigms – modernist visions of a nation-state and post-modern-individualist – in Estonian society.

The participants in the national defence debate disagree about what will ultimately guarantee Estonia security – NATO or Estonia’s own capabilities – and also about whether Estonia requires a conscription-based or professional military. The article cites relevant opinions published in the press in the last two years and provides results of public opinion surveys conducted on these issues.

The public feels that national defence should not be a top-priority issue for the government, as a military threat to Estonia is considered unlikely. Environmental issues like pollution or a potential explosion aboard a train carrying oil products are considered more clear and present dangers. Public opinion considers the most secure guarantee of Estonian security to be membership of NATO; this has the support of three-fourths of the population.

But at the same time, almost 90% of the population considers it necessary for young men to undergo military service and 63% take a negative view of draft-dodging. Two-thirds of the population express readiness to take part personally in defence activity if Estonia were to be attacked. And 75% of the respondents consider it necessary for young males unsuitable for the military to be called up for alternative service.

More than three-fourths of the public considers it suitable for the current national defence system to continue – a professional military exists in combination with compulsory conscription.

Estonia’s strategy for the future, entitled “Sustainable Estonia 21”, contains thoroughly weighed proposals on how to continue to function sustainably as a society. According to the strategy, neither continuing the current “invisible hand” policy, which cultivates individualism and declares economic well-being to be an absolute, or replacing it with a neoconservative policy that puts society’s general interests above everything else, would have prospects.

Individual liberty and social needs should not be placed in strict opposition to each other. These are opposite poles of the same axis, and for every given social situation, there is an optimal midpoint between these poles. A paradigm change must progress constructively, drawing on society’s full knowledge potential, not starting to destroy existing structures before it is clear what they should be replaced with.

Full article in Estonian